Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dr. Tavares or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Sports (Again)

Late summer, 2011. As the Mets slipped into irrelevance for the third season in a row only after 2 epic collapses towards the end of the season before that, I questioned my own existence in the realm of sports. I pondered more than my own fanhood, but the very reason why I follow sports or care to begin with. I wondered if I would outgrow sports. For the first time in my life, I wanted nothing to do with competition on any level. I would always be let down in the end. I would always lose. I panicked; who would I be without the Mets, let alone sports? Both have defined me as a person for so long...who am I? Why am I here? With famine, war, poverty and other seemingly very important things that deserved my attention, how could I even bother giving my time to such an endeavor?

The reason is because in theory, sports represent everything great about our species. Competition, rising to the occasion under pressure, exerting oneself in a team atmosphere towards a goal, etc. It gives us reason to rally around a cause, to bond with our fellow fans. The Mets had rarely given me any reason to love sports. Save for the beginning of this season, the Mets over the past few years have been lazy, unprepared and untalented. More than that, they didn't care.

Tonight, I realized that there are a group of individuals who care. A group of individuals who play a sport that embodies everything great about sport itself. Hustle, determination, passion. That group is the New York Islanders. Things like grit and the will to win don't matter in baseball. They do in hockey.

My faith is restored. For the first time in a long time, I feel like my passion, my enthusiasm, my determination has been reciprocated.

I received a text today from Mike that read as follows: "This is a real rivalry. An original rivalry. No BS, watered down nonsense like the Yankees and Red Sox. This is legit." I was expecting a fun game and boy did I get one.

Pregame started and the first story was that Nabokov (who hasn't played in an NHL game in a year) would be starting as opposed to Montoya who had played well the previous game. I figured he deserved to start again, but apparently in hockey it doesn't work like that. Different situations call for different goalies and lines. Understood. Gillies was announced to be in the lineup as well and I was excited to see an enforcer who I've heard so much of from my friends.

The game started and I never had my eyes glued to the screen this much in such a long time. My heart was continuously pounding. I'm not used to this.

Moulson got it started on an assist from J.T. and like last game, J.T. would prove himself to be the Chosen One and deliver when he was called to duty.

The Islanders controlled the puck for most of the first period and had a great penalty kill (a concept I learned tonight) after Streit left the game.
J.T. is the chosen one.

I noticed that you can't blink in this game - ever - or you miss everything. The pace is astounding. I still don't understand late calls, nor can I comprehend which player plays what position, but I'm sure that will come with time. I also can't tell who players are for the most part which almost endears me to the team even more; because I can't tell (and thus don't care) about who's getting the puck or making stops, I can just sit back and root for the team.

Gaborik's game tying goal was a shame. The Islanders controlled the puck for what seemed like an eternity and after one mistake, the entire game changed so quick. Damn, this sport is dynamic.

The Chosen one came out and tied the game after he missed an easy shot on a 5 on 3 which caused Nassau to explode.

I find that I am constantly screaming and losing myself in the game. I haven't felt this way since the Mets of 2006.

The game was tied again after a puck deflected off of Neilson. That would be the last goal the Rangers would score, for tonight belonged to the Islanders.

Mark Streit laid a pass right into Tavares (shocker) later on which caused my heart to literally flutter like a 1940s cartoon. If that wasn't enough, Tavares scored AGAIN on an empty net, giving him a hat trick, his third in his career. Nabokov played his tail off and deserves all the credit in the world for playing so well in his first NHL start in over a year.

I received a text from my buddy Matt right before the beginning of the third period: "20 minutes left. Who wants it more?" The teams didn't fight, but the game was intense. Everyone hustled. Everyone cared. Quite frankly, I'm not sure who wanted it more and I think that's a good thing and truly indicative of the sport.

It felt like a rivalry. An original rivalry. No BS watered down nonsense like the Yankees and Red Sox.


As for the Mets? Well, right now they don't matter. I'm too busy having fun.

Final Score: Islanders 4, Rangers 2.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


John Tavares, the best player on the New York Islanders and possibly in the galaxy (or at least my galaxy) made me scream like a child tonight. Ladies and gentlemen, I love this game.

Now obviously I recognize that this is not the norm; no team goes on scoring rampages like that night in and night out. But wow. This was one of the most exciting, fun and refreshing sport nights of my life.
JT started it off with a goal that I didn't see live because I was driving home. I immediately rushed downstairs and saw Stamkos score a terrible little goal that reminds me of watching those goals my friends who play NHL on Xbox complain about. From what I hear, Stamkos is pretty good. The game was tied 1-1, but it wouldn't matter after that. What happened next was sheer apocalyptic, earth shattering, Spiderman vs. Venom excitement. Though really, it was more like Spiderman vs. a four year old child.

I was frustrated after Josh Bailey had a ridiculous spin move with a shot that didn't get in the net. Such a beautiful move deserved a beautiful ending, but only minutes later would I be satisfied of my hunger for flesh.

Moulson soon scored, assist J.T. "GIVE ME MORE!" I screamed. "Aight yo" said Coach Capuano.

P.A. moments later set up J.T. to score right in front of the net on a beautiful pass right into the loving, godly spear J.T. uses to play hockey with when he's not using it to fish for Gyarados' in the wild. The two paired up again soon after to score another goal, this time P.A. setting up J.T.

The first period ended, my throat sore from screaming. It then dawned on me: I was screaming.

I'm hooked.

Grabner scored after a missed attempt by Kyle Okposo (which is good because apparently that line needs to step it up), Montoya played great and other stuff happened too. It's all a blur. But if J.T. keeps getting hit hard, someone needs to take care of that. Isn't there a specific role in hockey for that? Lets bust some heads.

What a wild night. I love this game.

Final score: Islanders 5, Lightning, 1

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Greetings Lighthouse Hockey fans

Well, it seemed I was linked on Lighthouse Hockey, which is part of the SB Nation of sports blogs.

Wow. As a HUGE fan of Amazin' Avenue, Posting and Toasting and Hogs Haven (yes, I'm a Redskins fan) and SB Nation as a whole, I'm truly honored. SB Nation has some of the most forward thinking, intelligent bloggers in the nation and to be even recognized as worthy to mention is truly humbling.

Though I'm only two games in, I really feel something here.

Thanks for the support and stick with me through this journey. I hope I can get to a game soon.

Are there any questions or recommendations you have? Please let me know.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Game 2 Recap - 10/11/2011

I missed todays game due to work, but apparently the Islanders came out with a vengeance.

I got a text on the train today that my favorite player, A-Mac scored a goal early off of a deflected shot and that's just glorious. After watching the highlights, I'm starting to get a feel for this game. Perhaps that's because I get good camera angles and slowed down shots, but man - I'm starting to "get it".

The Streit to Nielson goal was pure gold. I mean really, that might be one of the most beautiful things I've seen in sports. There is so much grace to this game, so much flow, so much ability and room to improvise. The Streit deke was NUTS. It was the equivalent of this.

Montoya made some great saves from what the highlights show me and apparently he played extremely well the entire game. From what I understand, Travis Hamonic played extremely well and swarmed the Wild all game. Wait, breaking news: I literally just realized he is 21 years old. Holy cow.

For a much better recap than I can ever give, check out Lighthouse Hockey for recap and video.

Final Score: Islanders 2 Wild 1

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Game 1 Recap - 10/8/2011

This is difficult. I had a hard time following the puck and I don't really know how to tell who anyone is or where they're supposed to be. I feel like Towlie from South Park; "I have no idea what's going on." It's complete mayhem. I have no idea how I'm even going to be able to judge talent. It's crazy how close players can be the opposing goalie with the puck and have absolutely no chance to score because of the swarming defense. No other sport is like that. There's no time to think while watching this game. I'm still not sure whether the pace of the game is perfect for those with amazing attention spans or terrible ones. I guess we'll find out sooner or later.

But onto the Islanders themselves. They never had the puck and it was kind of annoying to watch them play defense the entire time. Howie Rose offers a comforting and familiar entry to the game and I'm glad he's here to guide me. He's so unbelievable on the radio with the Mets. Nassau Colosseum is stuck in 1994. Besides looking and feeling exactly like a stadium stuck in 1994, it plays this song and Lenny Kravitz in between timeouts. I rest my case.

So the game didn't end up too well. I even screamed after the Panthers scored the same way I scream when the Mets let up a run - that counts for something, right? Travis Hamonic got into a fight and that was awesome because my friend Nick said he felt a big year from him. Starting it off with a fight, for me Travis? Cant go wrong. Violence is so glorified and encouraged in the sport, it is so beautiful. Hockey has embraced and perfected the one thing other sports shy away from: When in competition, why deny our primal selves?

I learned what a one timer is and I can imagine when it actually works, it's probably the most exciting thing ever. I also learned what off-sides is; simple enough. It's a good rule to prevent camping by the spawn killing in Call of Duty or Halo. The pace of the game is nuts - players coming into and out of shifts is crazy - I imagine players screaming like army commanders; go go go go!

On a closing note, I hope to get some interviews with fans, writers and perhaps team officials soon.

Final score: Panthers 2 Islanders 0

Pregame, Game 1 - 10/8/2011

I don't anticipate doing a pregame for every single game, but opening day calls for such a post. Most of my game recaps will have my pregame notes in them already.

As if this whole transition thing isn't awesome already, Howie freaking Rose pops up on my T.V. - It's like the Mets have personally told me this is the right thing to do. Lupe is blasting for the warmups which is getting me amped and right now, I'm trying to get acquainted with the pregame cast of characters. Network television sports have such an array of weird people and I'm excited to learn and get used to them all. I think if there's anything I'm learning from my friends and the pregame, it's this: apparently John Tavares is very good. And he's a forward. I"ll learn about that position too. Apparently Mark Streit is important and missed last season. Good to have you back,, yeah.

So there are three goalies - Nadokov, DiPietro (who I understand has more than a contentious relationship with the fanbase) and Montoya, the guy who will be starting tonight. Dipietro just showed up on screen in a Mets hat and a really huge beard which endears me to him. Peter Ruttgaizer is on screen telling me about coach Jack Capuano, who looks and talks like every single Long Island dad I've ever seen yell at their kid at Little League. I love him already.

I also love the fact Hockey coaches wear suits. I think it's one of the coolest things in sports. Like the Knicks and Mets broadcasts though, the same five commercials are always in rotation and I'm beginning to prep myself for that.

I feel really over my head. There are so many players to learn, so much jargon to understand, so many rules to comprehend...I hope I learn soon. I want to love this sport and this is an honest attempt to get involved. It just dawned on me that I'm not just getting involved in a new team, but an entire league. There are many teams, many players and lots to learn. I hope I can convince myself long enough that this is an intellectual endeavor because I'm going to be spending LOTS of time on this.

I think one of the largest reasons I'm so desperate to love this sport is because I recognize this league and sport is unlike the others in that you have to be sick in the head to play this sport. It takes so much guts, so much passion, so much hustle. I get the feeling that these guys would play this sport for free. That isn't the case for baseball and it certainly isn't the case for basketball.

Whats with this dinosaur as the mascot? I'm beginning to realize something glaringly obvious: this team is so weird. I love it. See you at post game.

The Start of Something New

My name is Drew Schustek. I never understood hockey.

Though I follow the MLB, NFL and NBA (and most college sports) like a fiend, I never took interest in the NHL. The sport of hockey just seemed so...out there to me. Who in their right mind would say to themselves "You know what? Playing a game of football on a friction-less surface (with sharp blades to guide us) with giant sticks and a rock hard puck sounds  awesome"? Whoever that guy was (Wikipedia tells me it was a bunch of nutjob Dutch, Germans, etc) was wildly delusional.

But he had some guts.

It's because of the danger of hockey that I always respected it. That respect first came when I was in middle school, when every kid was starting to truly understand their role within the world of sports. I played baseball, but I joined the roller hockey league because all of my friends were in it and without any experience, gave it a shot.

Needless to say, I was GOD awful. I had no idea what "off sides" meant, I didn't know what any of the lines meant and I couldn't tell you the difference between a center, a left wing or a defenseman. Quite frankly, I still can't. I wanted to be cool though and playing hockey was probably the only way I could come off as tough. As the shortest, scrawniest kid in my entire class, this was no easy feat. But hockey was the only sport I knew where fighting was not only allowed, but encouraged. So I started a fight once after a game and immediately got beat up. This sport was not for me.

I quit midseason blaming a "devastating" finger injury. This was acceptable in every other sport I played where I was too lazy to go on - but not in hockey. Kids at 12 years old were playing with dislocated shoulders, broken fingers, even concussions. I was in a different world. 

Throughout the years following, I'd ignore hockey and even make fun of my friends who watched it and cared about this foreign league called the NHL. My friend Jake and I would join our friends fantasy hockey leagues only to mock it. Up until last year, I didn't care about hockey and never intended on doing so. It wasn't until one of my best friends Mike asked me to come along to an Islander game that I felt an appreciate for the sport, it's fans and the absolute absurdity of it all. More than anything though, it was the badge of honor for that absurdity it's fans wore that turned me on to the scene.

Mike is the inspiration behind this blog. He loves the Islanders more than anyone on this earth loves anything. His passion, enthusiasm, sincerity and profound love for the Islanders and the game of hockey inspire me daily. It was Mike who made it so clear and simple why staying up late at home to watch West Coast road trips are the best thing in sports: "There's nothing more liberating than watching your team in your underwear."

We drove to Nassau Coliseum, a familiar site to those living in Nassau County, even more familiar for those like myself who had gone to community college just around the block. Everyday I drove by it, never paying it any attention, never caring about the crumbling piece of "stadium" just yards away from me. Though I felt so disconnected, it reminded me of Shea Stadium, former similar crumbling piece of garbage/home to the New York Mets, the team that I live and die for; and in that tiny resemblance, I was sympathetic to the causes of the Islanders. That, and the Islanders were from what I was told by my Islander die hard friends, an absolute nightmare to watch and one of the worst run organizations in sports. Just like the Mets! I was apparently in good company.

We pulled up to "The Old Barn" as Mike calls it and immediately spotted some HBO cameras. HBO was following the Penguins for 24/7 and Sidney Crosby who even I understood was one of the leagues best players, was in the midst of attempting to set a record for a point streak. I walked in assuming the Islanders would get blown out by one of the best teams in the league and that would be that. I came in with extremely low expectations, like the rest of the 12, maybe 13 other people at the game. I don't remember most of the actual game itself. I remember tasting the local fare (a Subway turkey sandwich) and getting a feel for the place. I remember the crazy song and dance (and Rick Flair screams) after the Islanders scored a goal. Everyone went nuts when they scored and I realized how refreshing it felt to scream in a stadium again - Citifield, unlike Shea is full of rich people who hate it when you cheer. Here, fans could be themselves and let loose. I loved it.

The Islanders won. They proved everyone wrong and stopped Sidney Crosby who I had arbitrarily begun to hate over the years for being the face of the sport I didn't understand. I went to a few more games after that and began to enjoy being an Islander fan (even if I didn't understand what was going on). I picked a player I thought was fun to watch and decided he would be my favorite. Andrew Macdonald. He's a defenseman and I still don't know how to tell the difference between any of the positions on the ice. But I'm trying. And that's the point of this blog.

The NBA looks to be locked out and now is the perfect time to learn about the sport that intrigued me so much just a few months ago. I'm going to follow the Islanders through the 2011-2012 season and try to learn about the sport, the Islanders, the fans and hopefully myself. I encourage hockey fans (and especially Islander fans) to follow me and guide me along the way.

This is my journey into a world I know very little about. Tonight, the Islanders start their season and I shall join them.

Go Isles.